New fiction: “An Apolitical Song”

A while ago, I took part in a day-long at-home writing session to benefit Dzanc Books. The story that began its life then — a riff on Brooklyn winters, isolation, and the notion of “fake jazz” — ended up becoming something called “An Apolitical Song.” And now the fine people at Metazen have chosen to publish it. Here’s an excerpt:

My current state: false starts and lyrics sitting half-written in notebooks. Seated at a table looking at fresh-made coffee. Watching steam ascend into late-morning light and thinking it looks like nothing more than smoke rising from a newly kindled fire. All I want to do is collapse around the phrase fake jazz, half-obsessed after a late-night remembrance of a long-ago late-night ramble about John Lurie. Thinking: I’m going to call this my fake fake jazz band, thinking that might blow minds, thinking that’ll leave holes in the world and realign things, wanting to see how people react, wanting to hear them run the combinations through their heads, wanting to see what their eyes do when they think. My fake fake jazz band.

You can read the rest here.


Word has come that Tim Kinsella — of many fine bands, including Joan of Arc, Owls, Cap’n Jazz, and Make Believe (pictured below) — has a novel forthcoming on the fine indie press featherproof.

SXSW2008 | Make Believe @ BD Riley's

I ended up writing a short blurb about this for Vol.1. What I wasn’t able to work in there was a link to this short story of mine that appeared on THE2NDHAND a couple of years ago. Called “Party Able Model,” it was written for a night of stories inspired by songs that was held in Chicago a few years ago. Given that Kinsella’s music has inspired fiction, it seems only fitting that he himself should also be working in that realm.

At the Manhattan Cocktail Classic

2011-05-15_14-32-47_657So: I spent my Sunday afternoon at the Astor Center, taking a class as part of the Manhattan Cocktail Classic. This was my first time attending, and I didn’t entirely know what to expect: would it simply be an overview of cocktail-related lore, or something more hands-on?

The event I attended was — as the photograph above suggests — a look at assorted bars and clubs across nearly seventy years of film. Nora Maynard covered a series of films, ranging from Laura to Almost Famous, with four cocktails to be consumed over the course of the afternoon. (Two came pre-made; two were assembled in the space.) It was a very enjoyable way to spend ninety minutes, and it reminded me that I really, really need to watch Hannah and Her Sisters.

After the course, we headed into the main space, in which assorted spirits companies had bars set up at which cocktails could be made. It was there that I tried the drink pictured below, made with vodka, grapefruit and lemon juice, and topped with freshly-ground salt and pepper. Which was not something I’d have previously thought to put into a drink, but which worked remarkably well.



Prompted by a late-night viewing of my friend Dan’s copy of Live at Pompeii, I’ve been wanting to delve back into Pink Floyd’s discography. They were one of the first bands I was obsessive about listening to, and I’m still fondest of the weirder corners of their body of work. (Seriously: ask me about my Atom Heart Mother theory at a party sometime. Also, I may have once tried to write a novel using Animals as a structural inspiration.)

Much like another much-loved band whose work I began listening to in the early 90s (in this case, Fugazi), the mastering jobs on the albums I picked up when I was in high school haven’t aged particularly well. Just the other day, I was wondering whether their discography had gotten the remastering treatment as so many other bands’ had (such as, say, Fugazi), and came across this bit of news on Pitchfork:

Art rock mega-titans Pink Floyd and EMI have announced an extensive reissue campaign covering the band’s catalogue. The series of releases will include “CDs, DVDs, Blu-ray discs, SACD, an array of digital formats, viral marketing, iPhone Apps, and a brand-new single-album ‘Best Of’ collection,” according to a press release.

Cleverly titled Why Pink Floyd…?, the reissue series is set to kick off on September 26, when the label will release all 14 of Pink Floyd’s studio albums in “Discovery” CD editions, digitally, and as a box set with an accompanying book of photos.

That sounds promising. In related news, I predict that I will be spending a lot of money on reissues come September 26th.

Texts: “Out of the Vinyl Deeps”

A number of very smart, very astute people have written elegant pieces as of late on why you should pick up Out of the Vinyl Deeps, an anthology of Ellen Willis’s rock criticism.

There isn’t much I can add to this. I will say, though, that I spent the last few days reading the anthology, and this excerpt from a piece on the Velvet Underground won’t stop rattling around my head:

For the Velvets the roots of sin are in this ingrained resistance to facing our deepest, most painful, and most sacred emotions; the essence of grace is the comprehension that our sophistication is a sham, that our deepest, most painful, most sacred desire is to rediscover a childlike innocence that we have never, in our heart of hearts, really lost.

Texts: “Dead Souls”

Last month, I joined WORD’s classics book group. This month, we’re discussing the first half of Nikolai Gogol’s Dead Souls. Until now, it had fallen into the strange category of classics looming unread on my shelf — alongside Ulysses until a few months ago. Looking at the book itself, its densely written paragraphs, and its age (over a century and a half), I assumed I was in store for something…almost archaic.

I was very wrong. Consider the narrator’s tone here, somewhere between omniscient and mildly frustrated with the characters around him:

As the conversation that the wayfarers conducted with each other is of no great interest for the reader, we shall do better if we tell something about Nozdryov himself, who will perhaps have occasion to play by no means the last role in our poem.

Or this passage, from five pages in, describing a piece of, er, unconventional decor in a common room:

…the same oil paintings all over the wall — in short, the same as everywhere; with the only difference that one painting portrayed a nymph with such enormous breasts as the reader has probably never seen.

Not being a reader of the original Russian text, I’m not sure if the tone here comes more from Gogol or from Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky’s translation. But either way, it was a sign from the outset that I was certainly not in the company of a museum piece, and that the narration was as alive as that of any recent novel I might encounter.

Crawfish redux

Up at Vol.1 now is a short essay about my one and only attempt at eating crawfish: in this case, in Austin in 2006. It didn’t go particularly well.

I found a restaurant called the Boiling Pot on Sixth Street, sat down, and ordered a large meal in which crawfish were in fact the primary ingredient. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the slightest idea of how to eat them: were the shells removed, like the lobsters that they somewhat resembled, or left on? I glanced around as best I could, hoping to get some indication of how to proceed from diners at adjacent tables. I felt like an interloper into Cajun cuisine, and it was that unease that kept me from doing the obvious and logical thing – which is to say, flagging down one of the servers and saying. “Look, how exactly do I eat these?” I feared a public shaming, basically.

I haven’t tried my hand at crawfish-eating since then — I was tempted later that same year, while on vacation in Helsinki, but quickly learned that an inexpensive food in the southern US is, as it turns out, a luxury dish in northern Europe.

On a walk through Hell’s Kitchen after work today, though, I came across The Delta Grill; on a chalkboard outside, a crawfish boil was advertised. Perhaps it’s finally time to see what they taste like sans shells.

Scenic Portland, Oregon

Alternately: I’m heading there tomorrow, for the weekend. Am I looking forward to visiting the land of Voodoo Doughnut, quality music, and Powell’s City of Books? Oh yes.

Because I’m a nerd, here’s a list of the books I’m bringing to read on the trip:

And, yes, I realize I’ve been neglecting this space. Mostly because the usual “hey, I wrote this over at Vol.1 — here’s a link” seems a bit superfluous these days. Probably time to change certain things over here — whether another design or something else, I don’t yet know.

Los Angeles

Thursday morning, I’ll be flying to Los Angeles to attend this year’s EMP Pop Conference. The last time I was in Los Angeles, I was seventeen, looking at colleges there with my parents. I was far more precocious than I believed myself to be; I was excited about Pink Floyd’s The Division Bell and hardcore shows; then, as now, I loathed wearing khaki pants.

Strange realization: I was seventeen then; I’m thirty-four now. Doesn’t feel like half my life ago, and yet there it is.

I’m excited to make the trip: looking forward to seeing dear friends, hear smart people talk about music, and visit some new places. Hopefully, I’ll make it back again before I turn fifty-one.

Bryan Charles, the East Village, and more

So: I reviewed Bryan Charles’s memoir for Vol.1. Long story short: I enjoyed it. There was strange feeling I got when reading it, though, and it wasn’t something I could easily bring up in the course of my review. That said, I thought I might do so here.

As someone who lived not far from Charles during the time described in his book, it’s a surreal read. The apartment Charles describes living in for much of the book is about ten blocks from where I was living (still live, in fact) at the time. He talks about a bar on 14th and B with half-price beer on Thursdays; I was at that bar on many a Thursday night. And there’s a  surreal quality to reading a book that describes certain locations during a certain time and realizing that, more than likely, you could be found in the background of those scenes, lurking on the periphery, the main character of your own as-yet-unwritten story.

And if I’m going to bring up the book in question, I should also mention the impressively comprehensive interview with Mr. Charles conducted by the esteemed Matthew Perpetua that is, I daresay, pretty essential reading.

So hey, new fiction.

As I periodically mention here, I’ve been deeply involved as of late with Vol.1’s Sunday Story Series. As the name suggests, it’s a weekly piece, either fiction or nonfiction, that runs on Sunday mornings. And on January 30th, the story in question came from, well, me.

It’s called “Revolution Come and Gone.” (The title is a hat-tip to an early-90s compilation that I listened to more or less endlessly in my formative years.) It’s the opening of my novel-in-progress Reel, and it starts out something like this:

Timon met Marianne at a Black Halos show in Seattle. It wasn’t the colder season yet, but its arrival was obvious. Jackets and a few bold scarves could be seen on bodies on the streets surrounding the club. These were melancholy hours, a time to have impractical thoughts and ponder ways in and out on walks through the city.

You can read the whole thing here.

Notes on a tattoo

Last Friday, I got my second tattoo.

The quote itself comes from the last issue of Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles, which is — I daresay — one of my favorite works in any kind of media, and one which continues to resonate with me in strange and different ways since I first encountered it in the mid-90s.

So here’s the full quote. I used the last line:

We made gods and jailers because we felt small and ashamed and alone. We let them try us and judge us and, like sheep to slaughter, we allowed ourselves to be…sentenced.

See! Now! Our sentence is up.

I’d messed around with some designs, but nothing quite seemed to fit the test. I ended up consulting my friends Alex and Scott, each of whom knows quite a bit about typography than me. Alex suggested Rockwell as a font; with that in mind, Scott came up with a pair of designs:


I then made my way to Josh at Greenpoint’s own Three Kings Tattoo, where the design was turned into what you see below (and also on my left arm). Apologies for the blurred cameraphone image — it’s still markedly better than the photos I’ve taken since then.

2011-01-14_13-01-45_698After this was done, I noted that it had taken me thirty-three years and four months to get my first tattoo, and ten after that to get my second. At this rate, I may not have any uninked skin by the time I’ve reached my forties…

Further Music & Lit Ruminations (or something)

So: God help me, I started a Tumblr page.

Specifically, I wanted to do something focusing on the one piece of record-related minutiae that I’ve always been fond of:  the bits of writing carved into the margins of records. Sometimes inside jokes, sometimes offbeat references, sometimes something else entirely. Ergo: Lock Grooves & Lit, which will be updated a few times a week until…well, I run out of records with things carved into the margins.

Also covering spaces where literature and music overlap, I chatted with the fine Austin/Brooklyn group Fergus & Geronimo for Band Booking, a new feature at Vol.1 where musicians discuss the books they love. Their album Unlearn ain’t half-bad, either.